YouTube star Sahil Khattar’s journey in the entertainment industry has not been easy. Despite tasting success at a very young age—he was a popular RJ in Chandigarh for a show called Love Guru when he was 17—shifting his base to Mumbai in 2011 led to a long period of struggle.

As Khattar tells Guardian 20, “I shifted to Mumbai seven years ago. My parents were totally against this. I got along whatever money I had. I lived in a chawl. I did not have enough money to buy food, not even to take out photocopies of a CV. I would walk long distances to cut down on my travel expenses.”

As he gradually started to get work and attain financial stability, a few “bad decisions” in 2014 took him back to square one. But Being Indian, a popular digital media platform, proved to be a breakthrough for him. Now a known face on television, Khattar intends to make his acting debut in films and web series.

He says, “Finally Being Indian happened and life got a little better than what it was before. Slowly and steadily, I started to host shows on TV. It started with hosting Dance India Dance Season 6, followed by Pro Wrestling League. I have also done a travel show called Expedition for Sony, along with some other shows. I’ll probably foray into acting in films and web series this year. Now I want to get involved in that.”

In a career of just seven years, Khattar has successfully established himself as a popular RJ and TV anchor.

So what were the challenges he faced in his journey? He replies, “There is a reason why people think I’m funny, because I’m a bald, bearded guy. Kids crack up if there’s anything that happens to me on television. That is only because there is a certain look that I have. But no one understands that we are also serious performers. I want to go ahead and act and do parts which good actors are doing. So this, too, is one of the challenges that I’m facing and I’ll continue to face till the time people don’t accept me as I really want to look at myself.”

While “looks matter” as Khattar says, he also believes that things will change for him as they changed for other unconventional heroes in the Hindi film industry. He says, “Things have changed for actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Irrfan Khan, Pankaj Tripathi and others. They are doing so well these days. Things have also positively changed for me in television and in the digital space. It’s hardly a matter of time and I am sure the mentality will change in the industry. It is not a roadblock for me; it is rather a reality check. For now, I am doing projects that focus on the talent and personality and where looks don’t matter.”

For Khattar, Being Indian, was “the biggest orchestrator” that gave a new life to his career. It happened to him when he was writing for TV shows like Rockstar and India’s Got Talent. He reminisces, “The show [Being Indian] required the anchor to go on the road and talk. This kind of role requires a certain kind of energy and spontaneity, which I know I possess.”

“When my producers saw me,” Khattar continues, “they too felt that I would suit the part well. Then, out of nowhere, the show got popular… So the fact that we started a viral avalanche makes me feel really happy. Being Indian also taught me everything that I needed to learn to host shows on television and have my own YouTube channel.”

Khattar is also known for his on-point comic timing and as a creator of comic content. However, he feels the way in which a particular section perceives comedy and content of any kind needs to change. He says, “While there are a lot of good opportunities for all standup comedians these days, it’s still not received well. I wish everyone had that kind of an understanding, wherein they could stop feeling offended by a joke or a video. That being said, I really like the fact that there are some really talented comedians in India.”

On his future projects and ambitions, Khattar says, “There are a lot of things I can do. I can sing and dance. I produce a lot of television, digital shows and brand videos, which a lot of people don’t know about. Until now, I have concentrated a lot of my efforts in anchoring and hosting shows because I always wanted to be an anchor. The future is a lot of things—one of them, to be in Bollywood. And writing is something that is dear to my heart. My long-term dream is to become a producer, writer and actor. Now to achieve it, I don’t know what are the routes that I will have to take. So I hope that whatever I set out to do, I can achieve that.”

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